Saturday, 19 April 2014

Illegal disel businesses

According to newspaper reports Tommy Crossan was shot dead on Friday 'at the illegal diesel site he ran' off the Springfield Road in West Belfast. 
Crossan had once led the Continuity IRA and served six years in prison for a gun attack on a police station in Belfast.
The PSNI must now direct their efforts to apprehend the murderers and bring them to justice.  However the location of the murder raises several important questions for the PSNI.
(1) How was it that Tommy Crossan was able to run an illegal diesel business in the heart of our capital city.  Were the PSNI unaware of his activities?  Surely as someone who had a lengthy record of terrorism and criminality he was the sort of person the PSNI should be keeping under surveillance.  It seems that either the PSNI were not keeping him under surveillance or else they were turning a blind eye to the illegal diesel business.
(2) If there was an illegal diesel business on the Springfield Road, how many other illegal diesel businesses are there operating elsewhere in Belfast?
(3) What are the PSNI doing to bring this criminality to an end?
These questions certainly deserve answers and the Policing Board and the Justice Committee at Stormont are places where they can be asked.
Quite a number of diesel laundering businesses have been uncovered around the border with the Irish Republic but I have not heard as much about action against the outlets for the illegal diesel.

Dee Fennell - republican bigot

Dee Fennell is the principal spokesman for the Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective (GARC) and is also standing as an independent republican candidate in the Oldpark electoral area in the forthcoming council elections.  He is a member of one of the small extreme republican groups in Ardoyne, the Sean MacDiarmada 1916 Society.
Today the Irish News (19 April) reported:
Mr Fennell claimed the 'radical approach and strategy of GARC' in recent years has 'effectively brought an end to evening parades' through Ardoyne.
He also warned that a more 'radical approach' will now be taken towards loyal order morning parades taking place through the district.
The actions of the Parades Commission, PSNI and the loyal orders in the months ahead could lead to a long, hot and volatile summer for all of us,' he warned.
Dee Fennell is a bigot and a particularly nasty bigot.  His bigotry and intolerance shape his attitude towards loyal order parades on the Crumlin Road and he believes that there should never be an Orangeman on the Crumlin Road again, morning, afternoon or evening.  In fact he believes in cultural apartheid.
He is a also a bully and his threat of a 'long, hot and volatile summer' is an example of that bullying.
Last year the Parades Commission pandered to the bigotry of Fennell and his associates by preventing the Ligoniel lodges returning home and they have encouraged him to press on towards his ultimate goal - no Orange feet on the Crumlin Road.  Peter Osbore, Brian Kennaway and the other members of that last commission bowed to the bullying of GARC and they have a lot to answer for.
The current commission has said that its determinations will be based on evidence and so the Irish News report will be forwarded to them with a covering letter as one piece of the evidence they should keep on file and keep in mind.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

What is wrong with our courts?

Royal Courts of Justice, Belfast
Recent newspaper headlines in Northern Ireland include Woman walks free despite £200,000 property fraud and Suspended sentence for drug-money laundering.
None of the £200,000 has been recovered from the county Tyrone property fraudster, who was given a suspended sentence, and the drug dealer also got a suspended sentence.
Most people will wonder if judges really believe in the punishment fitting the crime. 

Sinn Fein, welfare reform and Leo Green

The following paragraph is taken from Newton Emerson's column in the Irish News today (12 April):

Sinn Fein's former Stormont political director Leo Green, who suddenly left his post before February's ard fheis, has confirmed rumours of a fall-out by bringing an unfair dismissal case.  One of his complaints is discrimination on the grounds of political opinion, which would be unacceptable in most jobs but is clearly problematic when  employed at this level of politics.  DUP minister Nelson McCausland said back in February that Green had left due to major differences within Sinn Fein over welfare reform and events are increasingly bearing this out.  The issue is certainly profound, affecting not only benefit claimants, public sector workers and public service users but also raising the questions of whether Sinn Fein is an aspirational or eternal protest party and whether it wants Northern Ireland to succeed or fail on the road to a united Ireland.
Newton Emerson makes some important points and it will be interesting to see how Sinn Fein faces up to the challenge of welfare reform.  The signs so far are certainly not encouraging.
However a failure to move forward with a Northern Ireland version of welfare reform would have serious implications for departmental budgets, especially health and education, and for those workers in Northern Ireland who are employed by the Social Security Agency to deliver welfare to a number of regions in England.  Sinn Fein will get no thanks from those local workers who are likely to lose their jobs.
Finally, as regards what I said back on 8 February, I merely noted that Ken Reid had reported the absence of Leo Green from the Sinn Fein ard fheis and said that I had not seen him in the corridors at Stormont for several weeks.  I also noted that he was not the only Sinn Fein advisor who had been 'noticeable by his absence'.  Since then at least one newspaper has mentioned the name of Jackie McMullan.

It is clear that there are divisions within the party, as noted by Newton Emerson, and all is not well in the world of Sinn Fein.


Thursday, 10 April 2014

Sinn Fein make sectarian attack over housing

Alex Maskey
On Wednesday afternoon the three Sinn Fein members of the Social Development Committee, Alex Maskey, Mickey Brady and Fra McCann lodged a complaint with the Equality Commission about what they describe as 'the failure of DSD minister Nelson McCausland to address the housing crisis, which is hitting nationalists hardest.'

They allege that there is a housing inequality and that Roman Catholics and Nationalists are the victims of some unspecified form of discrimination.

Alex Maskey said, This is the first time as far as we know that a political party has made a complaint to the commission using this aspect of the legislation.  There is a housing crisis in the North. It is by far hitting Catholic families hardest who are on the social housing list.  The minister and his department are failing to address this.'

Fra McCann said that the view held by Sinn Fein was shared by many including trade unions,
Fra McCann
housing rights campaigners and NGOs.  However he didn't specify which trade unions and other organisations believe there is discrimination against Roman Catholics.

The only organisation that I am aware of, apart from some nationalist and republican community groups, is Participation and Practice of Rights (PPR), a pressure group which works closely with residents of the New Lodge area.

McCann did name Raquel Rolnik, a Brazilian Marxist who came to Belfast in the guise of a UN Special Rapporteur on Social Housing and he said that she 'highlighted the plight of many Catholic families in North Belfast.'  In fact the Brazilian visitor was taken on a tour of the New Lodge community by PPR activists, handed the erroneous figures produced by PPR and not allowed near a Protestant community.  With a record like that PPR are in no position to lecture anyone about equality!

This is a squalid and sectarian little pre-election stunt by Sinn Fein who have manufactured myths about social housing need, especially in North Belfast.  The truth is that there is housing need in the North Belfast constituency amongst both Protestants and Roman Catholics and I am determined that this housing need will be met in a fair and equitable manner.

On the other hand Sinn Fein want to sectarianise the issue by making false and unfounded claims of anti-Catholic discrimination.  Those false claims are then used by Sinn Fein and the SDLP to demand preferential treatment for nationalists.  To that end they are using their complaint to the Equality Commission as a threat to intimidate my department and to intimidate the Housing Executive. 
My department issued the following response for me:
I await with interest to see how the Equality Commission responds to this complaint.  I will be more than happy to provide any information or figures they might seek and these will clearly demonstrate my personal commitment, and that of my department and the Housing Executive, to tackle housing need in a fair and transparent manner.
North Belfast gets mentioned again, but their muddled thinking has already been discredited.  The reality is that the need for social housing in both the nationalist and unionist communities in the North Belfast constituency is roughly the same.  Figures from the Housing Executive confirm that there are 1994 Protestants and 1988 Roman Catholics on the waiting list.  Sinn Fein, for whatever reason, refuse to accept facts that are beyond dispute.
My aim is to build more houses for all our citizens irrespective of religious or political persuasion and I have already put plans in place to make that a reality.  Last year almost 1,300 new social homes were delivered.  This year I plan to deliver 2,000 and the same again for each of the next two years.  That is my commitment to the people of Northern Ireland and I will not be deflected by grandstanding from Sinn Fein who continue to go over the same old ground again and again.
Sinn Fein may be determined to pursue a sectarian agenda.  I prefer to improve the supply of new social housing and to improve the quality of the existing stock.


Monday, 7 April 2014

Northern Ireland Housing Executive tower blocks (2)

Last week I was invited to Parkdale House at Dunmurry by Jonathan Craig MLA and residents to see the problems faced by the folk who are living there. 
I posted about that on Friday and since then a number of similar situations with other tower blocks have been brought to my attention.
In the case of one tower block in Newtownabbey it seems that residents were promised remedial work more than ten years ago but that it never took place.   This is something that I was also told by the residents of Parkdale - work was promised and then cancelled. 
The problem of mould growing on the interior of external walls, which is one of the problems at Parkdale, exists elsewhere as well.  This is clearly a health and safety issue as this can cause chest complaints for residents or indeed exacerbate them.
There are a number of questions that I have put to the Housing Executive as a result of the visit to Parkdale and I plan to meet with NIHE officials either this week or early next week.
There is a pilot scheme for major works at Cuchulainn House in the New Lodge and this will involve external cladding to reduce heat loss but I am told that it will take a year to complete this work, a year to assess its effectiveness and then consideration will be given to carrying out such works elsewhere.
On that basis some residents will have to put up with these problems for quite a number of years.  However if work had started some years ago, when the problems were first identified, any programme of works would already be well underway.
It is becoming increasingly clear that for more than a decade the NIHE has not devoted enough resources to maintenance work.  Since coming in to DSD I have pressed the NIHE on this and hence the programme to install double glazing in all NIHE properties by 2015 and the pilot to fit external cladding on single-skin properties which have no cavity in the wall and hence no cavity wall insulation.
This is something that I will post about again as the full picture on the tower blocks emerges.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

A Scotch-Irish hymn tune called 'Ulster'

Robert Lowry
This morning at church we sang the great Fanny Crosby hymn All the way my Saviour leads me
All the way my Saviour leads me;
What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy,
Who through life has been my guide?
Heavenly peace, divinest comfort,
Here by faith with Him to dwell!
For I know whate'er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well;
For I know whate'er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well.
Fanny Crosby wrote the words but the tune was composed by the Scotch-Irish preacher and hymn-writer Robert Lowry (1826-1899) and in many tune-books it bears the name 'Ulster'.
Lowry was born in Philadelphia and was the son of an Ulster-Scots emigrant. He studied at the University of Lewisburg (now Bucknell) and became a Baptist preacher.  Over the next forty-five years he pastored five churches in Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey.
Robert Lowry also wrote many hymns including some of the best-known hymns of that era.  He wrote the words and music for Shall we gather at the river, Nothing but the Blood of Jesus and Christ arose and he provided the tunes for other hymns such as I need Thee every hour and We're marching to Zion.
The hymns and tunes that were written by sons and daughters of the Ulster-Scots diaspora form part of our Ulster-Scots heritage.